92% drop in bear conflict shows co-existence works

There once was a problem in Yosemite National Park. Bears were getting into cars (more than 600 in 1997), turned over garbage bins and generally wreaked havoc. And then something incredible happened: it stopped.

The San Jose Mercury News is reporting a 92 per cent drop in bear conflict in the park after staff implemented co-existence strategies, primarily focused on changing humane behaviour.

“Reports of bears damaging property or injuring people in the park have fallen 92 percent – from 1,584 in 1998 to 120 last year,” wrote Paul Rogers for the Mercury News. “And the number of bears that park officials have had to kill because they pose safety problems has fallen from about 10 a year in the 1990s to one or two a year now.”

The Mercury News notes a few major steps that led from intentional feeding of bears to increase tourism, to the new, peaceful co-existence:

  1. Expanded the staff of rangers, biologists and volunteers working on bear issues from two to 20 with a $500,000 grant from Congress;
  2. Installed bear-proof food lockers for hikers and campers around the park – a total of about 4,000 (over half came from a non-profit);
  3. Education was ramped up, including forms that visitors must sign stating they understand it is illegal and dangerous to feed bears, videos about bear safety are played on loops at visitor’s centres, and rangers visit campgrounds at night to ensure safety measures are being followed; and,
  4. Invested in GPS collars for bears identified after causing trouble – the rangers are able to track their activity and employ hazing techniques if they approach campsites.

It wasn’t easy and surely wasn’t cheap. But Yosemite National Park worked with local non-profits, animal welfare groups and every level of government to get what they needed. And today, Yosemite isn’t just a vacation destination for tourists – it’s a paradise for bears, too.

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